by Linda G. Tessler, Ph.D., Psychologist, Bryn Mawr, PA
Speak up! Fight your own battles! When kids used to taunt in the
schoolyard your friends would gather around to stick up for you. Now, on the college campus,
it's your chance to stick up for yourself – fight for the accommodations that you require
to succeed as a college student with learning disabilities. Through grade school and high
school, your parents and your special education teachers fought for you. With your
interests at heart, they spoke up on your behalf, helping you get the services you
needed to thrive.
Now it is time for you to learn how to advocate for yourself, to
support yourself, to reach your full potential in college, where there are large
classes, less interaction with professors, and the expectation that you will manage
your own study time. You must speak up! Here are some suggestions for easing the
transition from depending on others to being your own advocate.
Know Your Rights
It's natural to feel uncomfortable discussing your learning disability
and to worry about how professors will react. Perhaps they don't believe that learning
disabilities even exist, or maybe they have a child with learning disabilities and completely
understand your situation. In either case you are not alone. If you are planning to attend a
college with an enrollment of 25,000 students, then approximately 350 of those students have
learning disabilities, writes Howard Eaton in his book Self Advocacy. Remember that you are
not asking for a favor: you are asking for a right that is guaranteed by the federal government.
As a person with learning disabilities, you are entitled to receive certain accommodations.
In fact, the American with Disabilities Act says, no discrimination should take place against
anybody who is disabled. This includes persons with learning disabilities. Colleges are
required to allow you an equal opportunity for success. Your job is to work hard to take
advantage of that opportunity.
To advocate for yourself and to deal with the inevitable roadblocks you'll
face, you should understand what kind of disability you have so that you can explain it to
others. How do you process information? What strategies work for you? Remember that a
learning disability is a perceptual difference that inhibits intelligence from manifesting
Be able to explain to the instructor what special kind of perceptual
difference you have which inhibits your learning. Speak in terms of your strengths and
The list of accommodations that other students with learning
disabilities have received is not a shopping list from which you can choose. You are
entitled only to the help that allows you to use your accommodating techniques in order
to overcome your disability.
©Copyright Tessler, Summer, 1998
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